Ah, the ever so reliable pushup! It’s arguably the foundation for upper bodyweight strength training. From ancient Spartan warriors to modern day fitness bunnies, pushups are performed by nearly everyone! Unfortunately, many perform pushups incorrectly, including those in the military (and we loooove our pushups). Take a look at the list below and see how many of these mistakes you make when performing pushups in your workout and how to correct them moving forward.
Mistake #1: Not protracting shoulders at TOP of pushup.
As you lower down to the bottom of your pushup your shoulders should go into retraction (photo, left). Most people don’t have a problem with retraction. However, many people fail to protract (photo, right) their shoulder blades at the top of the pushup. Why is this important? Because, by protracting at the top of the pushup you are enhancing the range of motion and scapular strength of your upper back. This helps keep shoulders healthy and strong over time. Practice retracting and protracting your shoulders by placing your hands on a wall or put yourself into a pushup position while your arms are completely locked out (no bending!). You’ll soon realize how difficult and beneficial this action will be for your pushups. Slow and steady is the name of the game. Don’t try to do this fast. You won’t have the ability to perform nearly as many pushups but your strength levels will rise on other lifts and you will keep your shoulders healthy.
Mistake #2: Hyper neck flexion and neck extension.
Most people suffer from hyper neck flexion instead of extension but both are equally bad. The reason? You are either under utilizing or over utilizing your neck extensor/flexors. Any time you under or over utilize a muscle group, or groups of muscles, your body will find ways to compensate for it and cause pain. In order to keep balance and prevent muscle strains or joint pain you must keep your head in neutral position (picture below).
One quick fix is to place a stick (broomstick will work) on your back. You are in perfect neutral position if the stick can touch the back of your head, upper back, and top of your butt. Try to keep the stick from falling as you perform your pushups with all 3 points in contact (head, back, butt). This is much harder than it sounds.
BONUS! By keeping your neck in neutral position you’re better able to use your lats to perform your pushups. Lats act as an antagonist (opposing muscle) during a pushup giving your chest and triceps more strength.
Mistake #3: Anterior pelvic tilt (arching your low back).
This might look sexy but it is atrocious to those of us who understand biomechanics. When you arch your low back you have disengaged a good portion of your core muscles. These muscles are used in nearly every, single exercise and movement pattern of your body. By not engaging these muscles during the pushup you are training your body to create this arch in other movement patterns and making your core weak! Another problem with arching your low back during a pushup is the imbalance of strength between your upper body and core. Doing the pushups with an arched back will allow your upper body to get stronger but your core will be dragging far behind. Correct this habit by bringing your feet close together and squeezing your glutes extremely hard. You’ll notice you have to straighten your low back in order to squeeze your glutes. Keep squeezing as you perform your pushups and over time you will need to focus on activating your glutes less and less.
BONUS! Not only will squeezing your glutes make your core stronger it will carry over into other exercises. So, keep squeezing!
Mistake #4: Wide arms.
I hate to be biased, but, ladies, this is your BIGGEST mistake! When you perform wide pushups your shoulders, upper back, and neck muscles become your primary movers while your chest and tricep muscles have little involvement . Your shoulders begin to wear and tear under the constant grinding motion which can result in chronic shoulder and neck pain. To fix this habit, first, place yourself at the top of your pushup position with your hands just outside or inline with your shoulders. Now, walk your toes forward a few inches until your hands are in line with your chest (picture blow). Finally, as you lower yourself down keep your upper arms no more than 45 degrees from your torso. Yes, this is going to feel harder than before so only go down half way and press back up. Keep working until you can bring your chest and full lock out at the top.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!